To say 2020 was a year of constant unexpected events is a huge understatement. No area of our lives were exempt including events in the political world. A much talked about blue wave in the 2020 general elections turned out to be a blue trickle almost everywhere. Almost everywhere. In Talbot County (where I live), Joe Biden narrowly edged Donald Trump by 116 votes. That is the first time a Democrat presidential candidate has carried Talbot County since Lyndon Johnson beat Barry Goldwater in 1964. The winning margin for Biden was razor thin but a win in is a win.
What happened and what’s next?
First some history.
In 2016, the Talbot County vote for Donald Trump was 10,724 versus 8,653 for Hillary Clinton.
In 2018, the county vote for Larry Hogan was 14,081 versus 3,957 for Ben Jealous.
Clearly Talbot County voters TWICE overwhelmingly rejected progressive candidates and progressive platforms.
In 2020, the county vote for Donald Trump was 10,946 and 11,062 for Joe Biden. 2020 Trump votes were comparable to his 2016 totals; but Biden’s exceeded Hillary Clinton’s by 2,000 + votes!
One has to ask — what happened between November 2018 and November 2020?
How did a progressive at the top of the Democratic presidential ticket with one of the most progressive running mates in history (and who garnered less than 2% of the vote in Democratic primaries before dropping out); win in Talbot County
We may never know for sure without voter focus groups. That said, I offer the following thoughts.
This election was a referendum on Donald Trump’s personality, NOT on his performance. Until the pandemic, his record on economic growth with historically low unemployment rates for Blacks and females were quantifiable and impressive.
That did not go unnoticed by China who was aggressively called out by Donald Trump as a serious threat to America and to the world. Donald Trump also initiated actions against China and they in turn responded… HARD.
China deliberately, maliciously and secretly released a virus that led to a shutdown of a booming United States economy. Despite most of the shutdowns being ordered and largely managed by governors, Donald Trump was blamed.
Pundits, pollsters and the media (often wrong, but never in doubt), engaged in an almost continuous campaign to discredit Donald Trump since the day he was first elected. On a daily basis they downplayed Donald Trump’s achievements and largely ignored Joe Biden’s shortcomings including the fragile state of his health and his son’s involvement with Burisma.
During one of the debates, “moderator” Chris Wallace went so far as to say the American public doesn’t care about Burisma, but they do care about global warming. That may be true in the insular echo chamber where Wallace lives and works but like so many of the pollsters media and pundits he was wrong, just as they were 4 years ago.
The media and pundits also advanced a narrative that Joe Biden is a moderate. He is not, but that misinformation campaign worked.
Even some Eastern Shore media was complicit in piling on Donald Trump. At least three individuals who penned guest commentaries bashing the President had them published. One opined that Donald Trump committed ALL the seven cardinal sins of the Roman Catholic Church! The author of that piece later acknowledged that column was a “stinker” (his words not mine). In another column, Donald Trump was referred to as a “sleazy New York City real estate developer”. This steady drumbeat of vitriol against Donald Trump took a toll on his electability in Talbot County and elsewhere.
Some Biden voters may have yearned for a return to the policies of the Obama years. They likely saw Biden as Obama 2.0.
Biden voters ignored or chose not to acknowledge the odds of Kamala Harris becoming president sooner rather than later if they are in fact sworn in to office.
Given the forecasts that Maryland would vote overwhelmingly for Joe Biden, perhaps some voters concluded, I might as well join the herd and vote for the presumed winner.
Another factor in Talbot County is the ongoing immigration of voters from other parts of Maryland and the country. These voters may be bringing their voting preferences with them. Conversely increasing numbers of older, generally more conservative county voters are leaving the area due to regularly absorbing tax increases or, sad to say, due to succumbing to mortality.
Talbot County politics may be turning purple. Time will tell. The impact of 25+% of voters now registering unaffiliated is a matter that bears watching. Right now, Talbot County Democrats are feeling good about a Democrat Presidential candidate carrying Talbot County for the first time in 56 years. My advice to them is — “Enjoy it while you can”.
If Joe Biden or Kamala Harris are sworn in and push hard to advance a progressive agenda that the progressive wing of the Democratic party is demanding (as expected), a significant number of Talbot County voters who voted for Democrats in 2020 MAY have serious buyer’s remorse and vote accordingly in the near future.
David Reel is Maryland Director for Quantum Communications, a public affairs and public relations consulting firm. He currently serves as Chair of the Republican Central Committee of Talbot County.